My 12-year old son wants nothing for Christmas.
Well, he wants a few things: a gift card maybe to Barnes & Noble or GameStop, although he has plenty of money in his savings account to buy books and games; a new bike, although he is happy riding the one he has; new shoes, and this is more a request from me than from him.
But that’s about it, and those items have been divied up to the grandparents who cannot accept “nah, don’t get your grandson anything for Christmas this year.”
Jared and I keep pulling up the spreadsheet we made with the kids’ wish lists, expecting to see something we forgot in the Devin column. But there is nothing. Over and over again we’ve questioned him, and over and over again the answer is the same.
“There really isn’t anything else I want right now.”
At 12 years old, Devin knows he has everything he needs and wants.
As astounding as that is from the perspective of being completely counterculture in a world that is driven by the compulsion to consume, it’s also left us with an unusual dilemma.
What do we do when there’s nothing left to buy?
Once we’ve accumulated all the stuff, what are we left with?
What drives us? What occupies our time?
If we already have it all, what’s the point?
On the surface, I know this question sounds ridiculous. We assume that our lives are so much more than accumulating stuff. But I wonder if it’s this question that prevents people from embracing minimalism. I wonder if it’s what keeps us working long hours and chasing more wealth. Is it possible that we hesitate to say we have enough because we have no idea what would come after that?
What would you be doing today if you didn’t have to earn enough money to keep buying stuff?
How would you spend your Saturdays and Sundays if you didn’t need to run to the store?
Maybe you’d catch up on your Hulu queue, finish that book finally, or just watch whatever was on TV. Maybe you’d bake some cookies.
And then what?
If you had everything you needed or wanted in life, if you had nothing left to acquire, then what?
It has not been easy to answer that question in regards to Devin’s Christmas gifts.
We spent some time thinking about what we could buy him that he just didn’t know he wanted (night vision goggles!), because the idea of not buying him anything was simply too difficult for us to embrace. It occurs to me now that this is the role that advertisers and celebrities often play in our lives; they create a need where there wasn’t even a want, and we play along because we have to always be getting more. How else can we explain Snuggies and Segways?
Because we live in an RV (and technically we live out of four carry-on sized suitcases right now), we couldn’t go crazy with buying things that were neither needed nor asked for. Not even thirty years of habitual thinking could convince us to stuff our tiny home and empty our wallets completely when the kid has been adamant that he has enough. And so we were quickly back to where we started before the night vision goggles.
What do we do once we have all the stuff?
In terms of Christmas, this was a question of how to express love without consuming and celebrate without things. We had to think beyond boxes and toys and look more closely at our child.
I suppose that’s what people who embrace minimalism must do, too, or people who learn to accept the concept of enough. They have to look closer, dig deeper. They have to make thoughtful choices about their time and energy, not because they are more thoughtful people, but because no one else can do that thinking for them. No advertiser is waiting around to tell us how to spend our lives if we aren’t spending our money.
That much thinking about how to spend your days is a bit exhausting. It’s certainly much easier to just want what we’re told to want.
“Maybe we can just get him a nice shirt?” I suggest.
“He doesn’t want a bunch of new clothes,” Jared reminds me.
It’d be so much easier if he did.
Ultimately, Jared and I decided to give him the gift of not doing dishes a certain number of times and the power to decide when to invoke his gift. To anyone who might ask what Devin got for Christmas, this will sound ridiculous and inadequate, but I’m pretty sure my son will be ecstatic. I know I feel like I’m giving much more of myself than I could possibly give with my wallet; I hate doing dishes.
I’m still rolling around the bigger question for myself.
Devin’s lack of a gift list has made me aware of how much I am still driven by consumption. I realize that I actually seek out things to want or need. I search for holes in my wardrobe, organizational problems in need of plastic solutions, and projects that require supplies. I sold almost everything I owned six months ago to reduce the amount of stuff I needed to manage, and yet I struggle almost daily to know what to do with myself — with my life — if I’m not acquiring more stuff.
The truth is that I, like Devin, have everything I need or want.
I suspect that most of us do, really.
It’s time I stopped running from that fact and faced up to what that leaves me with:
The opportunity to decide what comes next.